August 8, 2013

How I drill toenails (and other revolting photo evidence)

Warning: you might want to look away now if toenail problems make you gag.

I thought I had toenails on lock for this summer, meaning that I would have them for the first time in a couple of running years. Until that blasted Choccolocco 50K and the water-retaining trail shoes I wore that day. That was the beginning of the end of six of my toenails. The worst offender was the big toe on my left foot. It continued to throb a couple of days after the race, when the other toenails had gotten back to just turning black but halted their throbbing.

The throbbing equals pressure, caused by fluid (like blood and pus) build-up behind the nail. When the fluid has nowhere to go, you will be in pain, which is your body's way of telling you that something needs to be fixed.

Disclaimer: you can totally go to a doctor to have them drill your toenail in a sanitary environment, and this is just my own experience that you do not need to follow. Disclaimer over.

So here's what I did when my toe was in need:

1. Pick out a sharp instrument for drilling. I used a sharp kitchen knife. I've heard suggestions for using drills or needles, but I like the knife because I completely control the movement (unlike the drill) and I don't need to hammer anything. I read about people hammering needles, and that sounded horrific.

2. Sanitize everything. I used rubbing alcohol to sanitize my toe and the knife. Also, if my toenail is loose, I will lift it up and pour rubbing alcohol in. So far, the rubbing alcohol hasn't caused any additional pain, but I'm not sure that it wouldn't in all situations.

3. Pick your mark and drill. I tend to choose a lower spot on the toenail with the assumption that I will be able to release more pressure the lower I go because there's already an escape route at the top of my toenail. As far as the drilling goes, I just place the tip of the knife on the toenail and slowly rotate it in one spot, drilling deeper and deeper with each rotation. 

The first time I did this, I was terrified that it would cause even more pain so I made sure to keep the drilling nice and slow, and it honestly didn't hurt at all. Using a drill would obviously be faster, but I've never experimented with it and don't really plan to because I like this slow-as-dial-up-internet method. You will know immediately when you've gone deep enough because pus will start to seep out. Usually it takes me a total of a few minutes to complete the process.

One, two, three, and you're done. Each time I've done this, it immediately alleviates the pain. If you continue to have pain, redness, and swelling, go see your doctor because you have bigger problems.

Drilling complete.

Also, be prepared for the toenail to continue draining any time you apply pressure to the toe. So if you go to yoga class right after drilling, take a towel. Just throwing out there the things you never wanted to hear. On to good news, once your toe is done draining and the pain is gone, you will be left with a blackish, brownish toenail that is ready to be camouflaged with toenail polish -- so you can get back to blending in with suburbia. 

To see a much uglier version of what an ultramarathon can do to you, go here. Bonus, that link is also funny.  


  1. This is the most disgusting post I have ever read but I loved it, even at breakfast time! My Dad did this with a drill on his thumbnail once and he shot straight to the top of my Hero wam, there you are at the top of my Heroine list, even higher than Zoe Romano! Most impressed that even your hair looked good during this procedure :)

  2. OMG. I always do this. I am warned to not look at something because it's disgusting, and yet I do it anyway.

    However, I suppose it could have been worse. And this is excellent info for the future if I ever have toenail problems.

  3. My husband would 100% freak out if I did this - he can't even look at my toenail problems!! I always feel the need to show him when my sock is all bloody after a long run - I'm mean that way, I guess!!!

  4. Okay, you are officially the most badass woman I know. If I was really in one of those hypothetical situations where you have to kick people out of a lifeboat, I would totally keep you on. You have mad skillz

  5. LMAO! I totally paint my black toenails and/or hard skin that is under the nail, after it fell off. Never thought of using a knife, good idea!

  6. Aww, a girl after my own heart! I love toe problem posts! I've never had to drill because if it happens I find my whole nail bed turns into a blister so I can quickly just poke a needle down under the nail from the top and it relieves the pressure. I'll keep this in mind for when I need something heavier duty-er

  7. Is it weird that I really love gross things that involve the body? I had a huge cyst removed from my face and I begged the nurse to let me see it so I could take a picture and send it to my mom. She loves that kind of stuff too. Thankfully, I have not had to deal with this yet, but at least I know what to do if I do have to do it!

  8. Ouch!! I don't think I could do that myself:0 My husband slammed his finger in a truck door once and had to go the walk in clinic. They heated up a hot poker and punctured his nail and lots of blood and pus came out. So glad I wasn't there for that!;)

  9. After this piece of nail is removed, the nail has a chance to regrow without an ingrown edge.


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